Naked City

FOP Cops Are Phone Flops

The Texas State Fraternal Order of Police is telemarketing again -- and complaints from the Dallas and Houston areas are flooding into the Austin Police Association, Austin's police union. APA is getting calls because the FOP's collection mailer includes an Austin return address, President Mike Sheffield explains. "We disagree with that type of solicitation -- we feel it's like selling the badge," he says.

Back in July, KXAN reporter George Howell discovered that, of nearly $700,000 raised by the Austin-headquartered FOP between October 1999 and June 2000, over 80% was spent on administrative costs -- leaving just 20% for the group's charitable programs. During this current fundraising campaign, people have complained that telemarketers are leading them to believe that their contributions will aid the families of police officers killed or injured in the terrorist attacks in NYC.

Interestingly enough, Sheffield says, his office has received complaints from Houston and Dallas residents, but none from Austinites. Meanwhile, Carrollton Police Dept. spokesman Sgt. Dave Sponhour says his department got nearly 30 complaints about telemarketing tactics during the week of the Sept. 11 attacks. "I don't know what line they're using, but we're getting tons of calls," Sponhour says. "Ethically, morally, and time-wise, it stinks." Callers have been inquiring whether or not the FOP is a legitimate organization, Sponhour said, and whether or not their money really will go to aid New York officers.

"We will not tolerate this whatsoever," says State FOP President Larry Sowards, who deems the allegations about FOP telemarketing "ridiculous." (In July, he told KXAN's Howell the same thing.) Telemarketers at Community Affairs Incorporated, the company FOP hired to make the calls, have been told not to mislead anyone, he says. "We have all our calls recorded," Sowards says, "so if that is happening, we would know."

Sowards isn't sure exactly what line the telemarketers use, but says if individuals want their money to go to the New York FOP lodge, that's where it will go. "If they say they want to donate there, it will go there. We'll send it straight to them," he says.

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